After Pompeii we went to Matera, where we spent three nights and two days.
Matera is a city in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina River.
Known as la città sotterranea (“the underground city”), its historical centre “Sassi” contains ancient cave dwellings. The exact date when these were first occupied, and the continuity of subsequent occupation, are questions that scholars still debate. Sassi, along with the park of the Rupestrian Churches, was awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1993.
Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera”. The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself. Many of them are really little more than small caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”. In the 1950s, as part of a policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to new public housing in the developing modern city.
Until the late 1980s the Sassi was still considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable and dangerous. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-orientated, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi as a picturesque touristic attraction with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there, and the city is amongst the fastest growing in southern Italy.
Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.
Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. Numerous famous biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera, as well as an impressive number of other films..